A work in progress …
Movies (seen on TV, probably on a streaming service, or on an airplane)
- Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery: What I liked about this was how purely entertaining it was. It had no pretensions except to be enjoyable, and we did.
- Amsterdam: The star power was incredible and I really enjoyed Christian Bale. But it was weird. When Mike Myers was on-screen, it became a Mike Myers film, and then when Robert De Niro was on-screen, it was a Robert De Niro film. The story seemed an excuse to put everyone together.
- The Menu: Apropo of the news that the restaurant Noma is closing comes a movie that combines TV shows like Iron Chef and the Chef’s Table, the excesses of fine dining taken to a new level and combined with a dark horror show: this movie was absolutely bonkers and I loved it.
- Matilda, the Musical: We saw the musical in NYC one year and were interested to see how they expanded the musical into a movie. Love, love, love the music. Love everything about Emma Thompson’s performance. It’s a dark story, as bequeathed by Roald Dahl, and a lot of fun.
- The Big Sick: Having watched Kumail Nanjiani in Welcome to Chippendales, I wanted to see his breakthrough movie. It is superb. A story about a girlfriend in a coma, stand-up comedy and Muslim family life, it also happens to be a rom-com. Really. The writing is so smart and funny.
- See How They Run: An amusing romp with fun actors, and probably more amusing if I’d seen ‘The Mousetrap’.
- Emily the Criminal: I was engaged by this, but such a dark film and a dark character: I didn’t love it.
- Good luck to you, Leo Grande: How can you not love Emma Thompson? But Daryl McCormack is a revelation, holding his own, in this engaging, charming, sex-positive story.
- Don’t Worry Darling. I had heard this was good, but must have misremembered because the poor reviews align with my view. It was very pretty to look at, but it was surprisingly uninteresting and unoriginal.
- Red, White and Royal Blue. My head is still spinning. When I was a teenager, I was starved to see gay men and gay relationships in the media. You could find them in arthouse foreign films, sometimes. No Hollywood actors were openly gay. Gay characters were usually unhappy, had bad endings, or eventually became sidekicks and snappy best friends. That the world has changed so that movies on streaming services get as much attention as those in cinemas. And that a film, much watched, can be released that is as gay and romantic as can be. With two straight actors who are not worried about playing gay roles, but just want to be ‘authentic’. The film itself was fine: silly, unchallenging and positive with attractive leads. My head is still spinning. In a good way.
- The Banshees of Inisherin. I didn’t expect it to be so comic for much of the film, nor as dark as it got. Incredible performances. I’m glad I saw this.
- Cassandro. Gael García Bernal is wonderful and the subject is fascinating with great ambience. But then it doesn’t go anywhere. Not much story or character development. I’m glad I watched it but wish it was better.
- Erskineville Kings. Known for early performances of Hugh Jackman and Joel Edgerton, this 1998 low-budget Aussie film is a look into Aussie masculinity. It’s got a real vibe and sense of place (a bleak one) yet there’s not a lot of story to it. Interesting from a cultural viewpoint, but perhaps not a great film.
Movies (seen in the cinema)
- Avatar: The Way of Water: I can barely remember the first one, though I saw it and I remember some of the controversy over whether people liked the computer animation or not. I liked a lot about the film, the images, the world building, but could have done without all the violent battle scenes, and the story and characterisations were really basic and juvenile. It didn’t appeal to me.
- Triangle of Sadness: Damn it. WTF? Winning the Cannes best film award and the bonkers trailer, we thought this would be amusing. But it was chaotic and shallow, and whenever hinting at some depth of commentary or thinking, it veered away. Too nonsensical to be entertaining and the criticism of the wealthy was as shallow as it portrayed the characters to be.
- Oklahoma (1999). This version of Oklahoma played in London, just after I’d left London and had arrived in Australia. So I was always curious about it, and particularly Hugh Jackman’s much lauded performance. They screened this in 800 theatres around the world to coincide with the musical’s 80th anniversary. And while it is boasted that the musical is timeless, how strange to see it in today’s light. The songs, many of them, are glorious and soaring and memorable. And some of them are ridiculous and hard to make work in any context. Jackman’s charisma is amazing and he injects such life into the work. But little can be done about the wet rag character of Laurie. And Ado Annie! It’s shocking that they’ve written a brainless nymphomaniac as a main character in 1943! While we’re obviously meant to laugh AT her, I mainly thought: whut??? The viewing was 3.5 hours! A long stretch. I’m glad I saw it though.
- Joy Ride: I loved this film. Clearly meant to entertain but with lots of inside jokes for Asian-Americans along the way. It was groundbreaking without trying very hard, and I thought it was very, very funny.
- Barbie: I wasn’t the target audience, and while I found Margot and Ryan engaging and charismatic, I didn’t like the film as much as I’d hoped to. On the other hand, there is something very subversive about exposing so many young girls to the concept of the patriarchy and toxic masculinity.
- Oppenheimer: Thankfully, we did not see this at the same time as Barbie. While I thought it was a little long (and that the last part of the movie almost felt like a different film), I was really entranced by the storytelling and love that a film dealing with such big moral questions in a smart, intelligent way is being seen by so many. I think it might be raising the average IQ of the world. One of the best films I’ve seen in the last few years.
- Theatre Camp: The reviews were good. And we loved Ben Platt in Dear Evan Hansen. But this film made us realise that we are not the show queens we thought we were. It wasn’t terrible, but it was just so underwhelming and not funny, like an inside joke, one critic said.
- Wednesday: I did find this entertaining, and Jenna Ortega is a star. I found it slow in parts and that it could have been a bit better, but I don’t think I was the target audience.
- The Resort: This science fiction time-travelling murder mystery was called a cross between ‘White Lotus’ and ‘Murders in the Building’, so we HAD to see it. Starring William Jackson Harper, Cristin Milioti and others, this was really engaging and whacky. We quite, quite liked it.
- Welcome to Chippendales: A sordid tale, told with camp abandon. Some critics have been calling it shallow but I found the performances great and was drawn in.
- Fleishman is in Trouble: Such a dark vision of middle age, at least rich, straight, Jewish middle-aged New Yorkers with kids. And never have I seen a television show (a mini-series at least) with so much narration, literary narration since it was adapted from a book (that I loved) and that it worked. I found this to be amazing television: funny, sad, transfixing, engaging and original.
- Borgen, season 3: Husband is watching this for the first time and I’m rewatching it. Such good TV. I’m transfixed by the great actors and wonderful storytelling. This was the season where Birgitte launched a new political party, the New Democrats. Excellent.
- Smiley: A gay Spanish rom-com, told in eight episodes, based on a play. I actually found the writing really weak in parts, but I was so charmed by some of the characters, and felt their emotion, that I’m glad we watched it.
- Conversations with Friends: 12 half-hour episodes of dreamy melancholy, it took me forever to get all the way through it: I found something interesting about how natural the characters were and spoke and yet, in the end, not enough happened for me, not enough developed. Asked to engage with a lead character who is supposedly such a promising writer, but is, as clearly spelled out, unemotional, inexpressive and with little self-knowledge: in the end, I wasn’t on board.
- The Last of Us: A mushroom zombie thriller? It reminds me in parts of the Handmaid’s Tale, and then of horror films. The gay episode was spectacular and unexpected. I didn’t like it as much as everyone else seemed to, and some parts were weaker than others, but I was still engaged.
- Beef: I’m still processing this but I loved it in so many ways, and it totally blew my mind.
- In Our Blood: A four-part dramatisation of Australia’s response to HIV. Having worked in the HIV sector here, I just found it too weird to relate to: how a complex success story was translated to a play then TV with some cover versions of songs at the time and marketed as a musical.
- Schmigadoon, Season 2 (Schmicago): If you love musicals, golly gosh, this show is so much fun. Stepping forward from Rogers and Hammerstein into Jesus Christ Superstar, Chicago, Cabaret and Sweeney Todd, the actors are clearly enjoying the hell out of themselves.
- Poker Face. We loved Natasha Lyonne in Russian Doll and I found this really, really fun, a retro vibe, unusually episodic. Yup, I enjoyed it.
- Modern Love Amsterdam. I always loved the Modern Love column in NYT, but have only caught a few episodes of the American television series. But both of us love Amsterdam and our Dutch friends, and it’s surprisingly attractive to just HEAR Dutch being spoken from our television. It felt sometimes like the storytelling was culturally unfamiliar, so I didn’t ‘get’ it all the time, but all in all, the series, only six episodes, was enjoyable.
Documentaries and Reality Television
- Physical: 100. I’ve always liked TV competitions, such as Gladiators or the challenges on Survivor. But this was next level. Take 100 attractive and generally interesting athletes from Korea, and combine it with Squid Game and we were completely transfixed by this.
- Next in Fashion, Season 2: I was a little confused that this was an all-American version as I quite liked the international flavour of the last season. But it’s very good reality TV: no drama, just enough back stories, the focus was all on the talent, and I found it engaging and informative to see what fashion looks like now.
- Survivor Season 44: Husband watched almost all of the latest Australian Survivor series, Heroes vs Villains, which I think is so simplistic and dumb, I could barely watch any of it. The American version is clearly the standard. They know their storytelling, the competitors are gold and they’re constantly tweaking the formula to be surprising. Go Caroline!
- Pamela, a Love Story: I read that this was worth a watch, and it definitely is. Pamela Anderson comes across as likeable and smart, and subject to a level of trauma and abuse that makes her a real survivor. Uncomfortable to watch that her major love story was basically from taking ecstacy for the first time. Yikes.
- Alone Australia: I never watched the other versions of this, thinking it sounded like a bunch of grim survivalists out in the woods. But my husband’s best friend is in it, and watching it, it is sensational TV and Gina is doing so well. Go Gina! (She won…)
- Eldorado: Everything the Nazis Hate. What a story. What stories. Expertly woven together, I found it riveting and touching. Wow.
- Queer Eye Season 7 lands us in New Orleans, for me an interesting setting, and the formula, tried and true, works well. I think the Fab 5 have actually upped their game: they seem generally interested in helping their heroes, give genuine and skilled life advice and I often end up crying. I saw an old episode not long ago, the trip to Austraia’s Yass, and they were not so comfortable and polished, and actually a bit frantic. I think they’ve really settled in.
- Project Runway All Stars, Season 20. Surprising, after 20 seasons, that unlike RuPaul’s Drag Race, which I’m over, sadly, I still love watching Project Runway. Christian seems like he’s having a ball, and I really do love seeing the talent and the fashion (the drama not so much).
- Andrew Sean Greer’s Less is Lost. Review here.
- Kevin Wilson’s Now is Not the Time to Panic. Review here.
- Liu Cixin’s The Three-Body Problem. Review here.
- Sharon Old’s Balladz. Review here.
- Frans Stiene’s The Way of Reiki: The Inner Teachings of Mikao Usui.
Concerts, Shows, Theatre, Exhibitions & Words
- Lil Nas X: A We’re not really fans but wanted to see the phenomenon, and it was a phenomenon! A sold-out concert with a very diverse crowd, including children, who all seemed to know all the words to the song. Being at the Hordern Pavilion, I couldn’t see much from where we were; I’d plan better next time to try to grab a seat at the side. All in all, I’m amazed and pleased that a gay black rapper and musician has become so popular and loved.
- Sydney Modern: We finally visited the new addition to the Art Gallery of NSW and what a weird place it is. Absolutely loved some of the exhibitions and art, such as the theme of home, and the big primal sci-fi constructions in the oil tank in the basement. And yet there was no much open space and the greenery hasn’t grown. It felt in places like a convention centre.
- La Cage Aux Folles, The Concourse, Chatswood: I was surprised at how silly and old-fashioned this musical was, and to find out what a huge success it was at the time. Times change, I guess.
- Studio A’s Rainbow, Mermaid, Fireworks: An immersive exhibition by Rosie Deacon and Emily Crockford, these artworks are joyful and colourful.
- Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, the Capitol Theatre: Listen, the cast are enthusiastic and super-talented, but I think this is a dog of a show.
- Tick, tick … boom! Lyric Theatre. I was very interested to see this show compared to the Netflix version. Interesting to see Hugh Sheridan, who I think is very talented, try to embody Jonathan Larsen. It’s an odd show with not much story or coherence, though you can hear, see and feel the flashes of brilliance that later made Rent a worldwide phenomenon. The other cast members were great but Elenoa Rokobaro was a sensation.
- Into the Woods. Belvoir. Bogans behind us talking during the play and songs (I told them to please stop talking at intermission and boy, were they hostile) and someone in front of us fricking texting during the show. Fark! But it wasn’t enough to dim my love for this musical and some sensational performances. It really is one of my all-time favourites.
- Ásgeir, City Recital Hall. I always liked this Icelandic singer but didn’t expect him to be even better live. His voice was even more interesting and emotional, the orchestrations were punchy and tight. He sounded both very contemporary and like the first folk pop music that I heard that made my young heart ping with delight.
- City of Angels. Hayes Theatre. I’ve known the song ‘You’re Nothing Without Me’ for more than 20 years, but have never seen the musical it came from. And what a delight it was. Funny, clever and busy, with dense, witty lyrics and joyous music. The assembled cast, as always at Hayes, is hugely talented and charismatic.
- Ottoman Baroque. The Australian Brandenburg Orchestra with the Whirling Dervishes of the Mevlana Foundation. A mix of modern choral music, interpreting Rumi’s ‘This Marriage’, and traditional Ottoman-Turkish music then a religious Mevlevi ceremony. And we saw it here in Sydney instead of Istanbul! A curious evening.
- Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812, Darlinghurst Theatre. I really, really liked this. The multi-instrumentalist and multitalented cast, the staging, the music. I enjoyed it so much, I was OK with the story, which was sort of meh, and marvelled at how the vibe and talent outweighed it. The musical reminded me a bit of Sunday in the Park with George, where the plot was about art and being an artist, and this was about existing and being alive.
- Murder for Two, Hayes Theatre. It felt like this crazy musical was written by a pair of extremely talented friends who were having a ball doing it. What’s surprising was that it could be recreated, and so successfully, considering the talent that it takes to put it on: two actors who can both play piano really well and then act and sing and one of them doing more than a dozen characters. This conceit never faltered, and Gabi and Maverick were so amazing. The audience LOVED it, and so did we.
- Culture Club with special guests Berlin. My friend Freddy booked these tickets but couldn’t go so I went with his husband. Our seats were a little too far back to feel very engaged but the crowd seemed to love it.
- The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Hayes Theatre. I saw a production of this years ago in Sydney, at the Seymour Centre, but when was it? 2015? It feels longer ago than that, but since this musical hit Broadway in 2005, it must have been well after that. No matter. I’d forgotten that it is nearly a perfect musical. It’s very funny and engaging, and moves along at a quick pace. Interestingly, all the songs are in the service of carrying the story forward. They’re tuneful and fun but I’m not sure if any stand on their own outside the musical. The cast was amazing. The only minor quibble is that I didn’t feel as emotionally moved, as with some shows, but it wasn’t really that kind of musical. Really: this was quite perfect.